Athlete of the week: Richard Van Patten, Elk River, Marathons: Rejuvenation

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

When Richard Van Patten decided to take back control of his life three years ago, he chose running as his mode of rejuvenation. He had gotten chubby for the first time, and perceived he was “at a crossroads” in his late 40’s. But with his new resolve and regimen, he lost 68 pounds, then started gearing toward running competitively rather than just fitness.

In the last 10 months, the 51-year-old Elk River resident completed four marathons and two half-marathons, fighting through back and leg pain for the last three events.

Richard Van Patten has completed six marathons, four in the last 10 months. (Grandma's Marathon photo)

“I wanted to become more physically and mentally fit,” said the 5-foot-11, 166-pound athlete about his U-turn. “I started power walking, and with each level of accomplishment, my goals changed as well, which ended up running, then competing.”

The former Elk athlete (cross country, football and hockey in the 70’s) found running to be the best route to his goals due to the dedication and discipline you need to run 26.2 miles. “I can honestly say the decision to start running, saved my life.”

Van Patten’s 10-month odyssey started with the Urban Wildland Half-Marathon in Richfield last August. His time was equivalent to a Boston Marathon qualifier and put him in Corral 1 of the Twin Cities Marathon last September, where he ran 3:47:49, placing 124th of 432 in his age group. He got down to 3:37:57 at the Mercedes Marathon in Alabama in February.

This encouraging progress was tempered by pain that sprang up from his lower back to the tip of his foot. He endured to run a 1:42:47 half-marathon at the Get In Gear in Minneapolis in May. Still hurting, he ran the Fargo Marathon on May 21 and paid the price, finishing in 4:02:19 as pain and cramping reduced him to walk/run the last 10 miles. After treatment from orthopedic doctors, he gamely headed to Duluth for the state’s biggest and oldest event, Grandma’s Marathon, on June 18, and ran better but still unsatisfactorily with a 3:53:45 time.

Van Patten, who’s done six marathons in all, is confident he’ll be OK for the Urban Wildland on Aug. 6. He plans to do the TCM in September and a Las Vegas marathon in December.

“I absolutely love running!” states Van Patten, who routinely treks 18 to 20 miles in training, and once notched a 2:59 pace.

Asked what are the benefits, he reflected, “How much it’s raised my self-awareness, my life path, self-confidence and the feeling of accomplishing the goals I’ve set out to reach ….  Running has also dramatically increased my energy, stamina, critical thinking skills.”

His goals are the break three hours, to win his age group, and to log 10 marathons each year.  He has one other goal that’s crazy even for a marathoner. Once  his leg issue is resolved, he wants to run a couple of Ultra (100-mile) marathons.

The sport he took up at age 48 has had such a positive impact on his life that he gives running his total focus. “I never run with a radio, ever. I want to think aboutmy activity. I have resolved many issues in my life during these runs. Very therapeutic indeed.”


Personal file – Age: 51 … Family: widower; daughter Kristin, 27 … Occupation: process tecnhican for Thermotech in Hopkins … Sport: marathons … Hometown: Elk River

Favorite stuff – Athletes: Steve Prefontaine, Wayne Gretzker … Marathoners: Alberto Salazar, Deena Kastor … Teams: all the local pro reams … Reading: anything about running … Place he’d like to visit: I would like to run the Great Wall of China Marathon


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